I came up with this pasta dish by necessity when a few weeks back I fell behind on a writing deadline and needed something really fast and easy for dinner so that I could get back to my desk as soon as possible. The meal I had originally planned wouldn't quite cut it.
So I made a quick inventory of my refrigerator and saw that I had leftover cheese from a previous lasagna recipe.
That put me in mind of a delicious cheese, spinach, and artichoke dip served with bread that I had enjoyed at a party the previous week.
The thought occurred to me that it would be a simple matter to try to re-create the recipe and adapt it for use with pasta.
In this case, I opted to skip the artichoke and go with only the much more budget-conscious chopped spinach that I happened to have in my freezer. I also used whole grain ziti pasta in place of the sliced French bread.
And because I didn’t have ricotta on hand, I substituted the cottage cheese I'd used for my lasagna recipe. I actually prefer cottage cheese over ricotta in lasagna dishes – please don’t hate me for that, the Italians among you, I really can’t help it.
And I also want to stress the fact that I will buy and eat whichever type is on sale.
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In this case, I had stocked up on an extra container of cottage cheese when it was BOGO (buy one, get one free). But I don’t have a doubt in the world that ricotta would be perfectly lovely in this recipe.
With those substitutions in mind, I was ready to go.
I could have put it together even more quickly if I’d had already cooked pasta on hand from another meal earlier in the week.
Then it quite literally would have been five minutes of prep time, thanks to the fact that I had bought grated cheese -- on sale, of course -- when it was cheaper by the pound in the shredded form than in the brick.
That’s not always the case, of course, so grating a brick would have added to the prep time a bit. Not a whole lot, though.
The pasta took about 15 minutes to cook from the time I put the water on, and I prepared the cheese mixture while it was boiling. Then I mixed everything together in about 2 minutes and put it into the oven for about 25 minutes.
You can see how having the pre-cooked pasta would make this a meal that’s ready for the table in less than 30 minutes.
For example, for New Year’s, I dressed it up by adding about a cup of diced artichoke hearts (a whole can), a bit of cream, and some fresh arugula. Due to the fact that the artichokes were marinated, I cut back on the lemon juice. It was yummy.
The guests gave it rave reviews and gobbled it up.
But even for everyday options, you could change out the spinach for broccoli or just about any vegetable of your choice. And you could also use just about any grated cheese that’s on sale or you happen to have on hand.
That versatility is one of the things I like about this meal. It will be a keeper for us.
Here’s the recipe:
Makes approximately 6 hearty servings
Total Prep Time – 5-10 minutes
Total Start to Finish Time – 45 minutes
(if you have cooked pasta on hand, it’s about 30 minutes)
Recipe Cost – approximately $7
Total per person meal cost with salad – approximately $1.50
12 ounces whole grain ziti or pasta of your choice (broken up linguini works well) (approximately 6 cups cooked)
10-16 ounces frozen, chopped spinach (or vegetable substitute of your choice)
½ cup oil (canola or olive oil)
2 cups cottage or ricotta cheese
4 ounces mozzarella cheese (or approximately 1 cup grated mozzarella)
4 ounces cheddar cheese (or approximately 1 cup grated)
1 cup cream cheese (optional)
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
½ teaspoon garlic powder (or 2 cloves of fresh garlic)
1-3 tablespoons lemon juice - to taste (reconstituted or fresh squeezed)
½-1 teaspoon salt (to taste)
½- 1 teaspoon pepper (to taste)
Recipe continues after photos.
- Preheat oven to 350°.
- Put on a pot of water for the pasta and bring it to a boil. Add the pasta, and cook it according to the instructions.
- Meanwhile, thaw the spinach in a microwaveable container on low power in the microwave for 3-5 minutes. When it is done, drain it and set it aside.
- If you are using fresh garlic, then peel and mince or chop it.
- If you are using brick cheese, grate about 4 ounces each of the cheddar and mozzarella to make approximately 1 cup each. Mix the grated cheeses together. As an option, you can set aside about ½ cup of this grated cheese mix aside to use as a topping.
- Combine the grated cheese, the 2 cups of cottage or ricotta cheese, the ½ cup of oil, the ½ teaspoon of garlic powder or the fresh minced or chopped garlic, the 3 tablespoons of lemon juice, the optional cream cheese, the salt and the pepper in a large mixing bowl.
- Add the drained, thawed spinach to the cheese mixture and stir to mix well. Set the mixture aside until the pasta is done.
- When the pasta is done to taste, drain it in a colander.
- Thoroughly mix the cooked pasta with the cheese and spinach mixture in a baking dish.
- Top with the cheese you set aside, if you opted to do this.
- Place the casserole in the pre-heated oven, and bake for approximately 25 minutes, or until it’s hot and the cheese is melted throughout, and/or the top is lightly browned.
- Serve with a tossed green salad, and an optional side of fresh bread.
Options to dress it up: Add a bit of cream, extra virgin olive oil, artichoke hearts, fresh broccoli florets, arugula, etc., or just about anything your heart desires. It’s hard to mess this recipe up.